Élodie Yung chats with TV Week about landing her first TV lead

Parisian actress Élodie Yung plays Thony De La Rosa, a Cambodian doctor who comes to the U.S. seeking treatment for her son in The Cleaning Lady. But after a complication, mother and child are stranded in Vegas, with both time and money running out. Working as a maid till she can figure out a plan, Thony witnesses a murder—which unexpectedly lands her a gig as a crime scene cleaner for the mob.

The Cleaning LadyCTV

TV Week: Just what was it about Thony that jumped out at you that first time you read the script?
Élodie Yung: There was so much. I was so glad to land a part like this, because she is an immigrant. She’s a fighter. This hit home to me. My dad came from another country [Cambodia] and had to kind of make his own place in France. So, I could very much relate to that. I was so glad that I could be seen for the first time for who I really am as a whole person—with my origins, my background and also just what I could bring as an actor. There are so many layers. She’s a mother. She fights for the life of her son. I can also, very much, relate to this. I’m a mother myself. So it was such a strong part and draining, but beautiful to have.

What did you discover about Thony as you were going along—an added dimension that developed as you got down to playing her...
I think what I learned the most about her was this resilience that she has. She’s put in extreme situations, and yet she never stops fighting. That’s what really struck me about this part.

Any special skills you can add to your résumé after prepping for this role?
I had to learn how to clean—period. We’re not Method; I think Martha [Millan, who plays Thony’s sister-in-law] and I learned as we shot the series. But apart from that, I really wanted to embody Thony the way I saw her, which was as a Cambodian immigrant coming from the Philippines to America. And, you know, I grew up with my dad, who is Cambodian, but we grew up in France. So even though he has a very thick, strong Cambodian accent that I could mimic in my own language, the consonants and the vowels are very different in the English language. So it was constant work for me to really nail the accent.

The Cleaning LadyCTVHow exactly does Hollywood compare to the French film industry?
In France, it’s a lot of networking, which I’m not really great at. And in America, I felt that they would give the chance to anybody who just had to offer a piece of work. They just wanted to see what you could give. Coming here to America, I had access to a lot of castings. And casting directors would be just curious to see who I was, and they liked my work, and they would call me back. So, I have been able to just showcase my craft here in America, which was more limited, unfortunately, in my own country. I’m a very positive person, and I think things are changing in the industry, and there are more parts for people like me anywhere, even in France.

Would you say there are some advantages to being brought up with two different cultures? Does it enhance your worldview?
I mean, it was rich for me. I’ve basically grown up with my dad’s side of the family... He’s the eldest of 10 kids, but he lost everyone during the genocide between ’75 and ’79. He managed to escape with his uncle and then his aunt and his cousins, so I grew up very close to my cousins. They’re not my direct cousins, but it’s kind of like a recomposed family. And I did grow up very [immersed] in what I knew of the Cambodian culture. I’ve always been closer to this side of my family than my mom’s side, and I think that enriched my childhood, in a way.

The Cleaning Lady airs Mondays at 9:01 p.m. on CTV & Fox